Like so many of us, Josh Zepps was hit square in the face with every possible cliché upon his arrival in New York as an 18-year-old backpacker.
"I jumped on the subway to the only station I knew the name of -- Times Square -- got off, and there was steam pouring out of grates in the sidewalk, NYPD cops chewing gum and the yellow cabs -- it was like somebody was injecting cocaine into my eyeballs," Zepps told The Huffington Post Australia.
What was meant to be a week's stay turned into a month, and a personal vow to return to the Big Apple to fulfill his dream of working in radio or television.
"I saw David Letterman being taped, and Conan O'Brien and I just caught the bug. I promised myself that I'd come back and spend my 20s there," Zepps said.
Born and raised in Sydney's inner west suburb of Balmain, Zepps quickly moved up the talkback radio ranks for his sound Howard-era politician impersonations and it wasn't long before he was back in New York, and with his own show, no less.
"It was on the Discovery Science Channel and basically a smart-arsey recap of the week's science news," Zepps said.
Soon he was picked up to be the anchor for CBS News' Channel One News and later, hired by the mastermind behind HuffPost Live to be the founding presenter of the streaming talk network, hosting more the 1000 hours of live television with hundreds of personalities including Russell Brand, Rihanna and Erin Brockovich.
"He'd just come off an interview at MSNBC where I believe he'd been disrespected by a host," Zepps sad.
"It became clear in the first few minutes that he wasn't in the mood for conventional television chit-chat."
Zepps had two choices: ride the horse or get trampled.
"It went all over the place -- it was exhilarating and exhausting -- but I think it broke through, and I think it made HuffPost Live get noticed as a safe space for celebrities to be the most authentic version of themselves," Zepps said.
Authenticity and a good dose of improv are the key ingredients to Zepps' current project, his podcast #WeThePeople LIVE which he's currently in Australia promoting, with a live show being recorded at Sydney's Giant Dwarf this month.
Endorsed by the New York Times and named in the Top 5 comedy shows on iTunes, each week Zepps hosts a panel of celebrities for a participatory chat about the news, taped in front of a live audience where members and people on social media can ask questions.
"We in the media have to find ways to have conversations with each other -- and with readers and viewers that are stridently bullshit-free and dogmatically opposed to dogma -- and that's what my show tries to do," Zepps said.
We in the media have to find ways to have conversations with each other -- and with readers and viewers that are stridently bullshit-free and dogmatically opposed to dogma -- and that's what my show tries to do.
Creating trust and cutting through the so-called "fake news" is what Zepps believes is key for 21st century media.
"We're in a moment of crisis where the fundamental currency -- trust -- is more desired than ever but people have a quicker attention span so they don't have time to investigate the veracity of everything they receive," Zepps said.
As for whether he's ready to pack in New York and return home?
"My husband and I actually moved from New York to LA literally last month but we're also torn about leaving -- and don't really feel we've left New York -- but we also want to live in Australia too," Zepps said.
Thankfully, with the world as connected as it is, Zepps reckons he can pull off spending more time in Australia in the coming years. But right now at least, that cocaine in his eyeballs clearly still lingers.
Josh Zepps will be doing one recording of #WeThePeople LIVE on Sunday December 18 at 6pm at Sydney's Giant Dwarf. He's also currently hosting ABC Local Radio Evenings nationally.
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